Last night I had the privilege of preaching at the Union Gospel Mission and witnessed another mighty haul of fish in the net. The glory of God was thick in the room and yet again, I was reminded of the plea and pain of Jesus’s parable in Luke 14:16-21:
“Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ “But they all alike began to make excuses. “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”
Such realities are well known to many leaders and the weight of it is thinning the ranks. Our seminaries are searching hard for less and less candidates, our churches are closing and too many pulpits are cold forges that have lost the flame.
Congregations are being entertained and coddled like people on cruise ships and those who long for meaning and mission are looked upon as oddities or malcontents.
Some of this sickness is because leaders have succumbed to managing the mission from offices instead of outreach. The lords of the land are getting spayed and neutered by the necromancy of niceties. Wormtongue has lulled them into sitting instead of standing, silence instead of proclamation, talks instead of oracle givers. The throne has been replaced with an easy chair and the results speak for themselves.
These are dire times and the church and her leaders must wake from this damnable delusion.
I cut my teeth on the call of God and preaching outside of church meetings. My life of mission was born out of face to face encounters. Ministry as I knew it, took place not behind a pulpit but on sidewalks, in hallways, apartments, businesses, coffee shops, homes, schools and at night under the illuminating glow of neon signs.
My early congregations were small, made up of students, drunks, the homeless, skinheads, gutter punks, friends, backpackers, hostel residents, business people, madmen, bosses and employees, family, prostitutes, transvestites and addicts.
Early on I thought church was where you went to get equipped and fueled up to continue the work outside, I didn’t think it was where the work happened. But the more I got pulled into the church culture, the more I began to see that inside the building people said one thing, but the environment and example contradicted the message. The inside culture grows to become about those inside, not those outside. And soon Jacob’s trouble’s begin and those troubles can knock the wind right out of a soul winner’s heart.
The inside church culture can get consumed with issues that eventually turn kings into captives.
Like Theoden of Rohan in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers, a cold delusion takes over and mummifies men into managers, women of war into blind and paranoid throne warmers. The Enemy always seeks to tempt prophets with the pinnacles of the temple, instead of allowing them to roam dangerously free among the countryside and it’s still true today. One of the reasons I maintain ministry among the places I do, is to fight the power of such sickness.
Kings need Eomer’s who will stay faithful to them and the kingdom, even when their kings are prone to dotage in their waning age.
The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall:
“Théoden before his ‘sickness’ had been much loved by all his kin and people, and the loyalty of Théodred and Éomer remained steadfast, even in his apparent dotage Éomer also was not an ambitious man, and his love and respect for Théodred (thirteen years older than he) was only second to his love of his foster-father.”
This is the time when Kings go off to war and too many of us are lounging, longingly on the rooftops of palaces being lured into compromise and catastrophe by our lusts and leisure, while the fighters fall on the front.
But this does not have to be.
Our times, our churches, our kings…need more Gandalfs willing to war for the heart and minds of leaders. Daring to confront the lies and luxuries of the hour and call them back to who they were meant to be.
The Two Towers, The King of the Golden Hall:
“Thus Gandalf softly sang, and then suddenly he changed. Casting his tattered cloak aside, he stood up and leaned no longer on his staff; and he spoke in a clear cold voice. ‘The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.’ He raised his staff. There was a roll of thunder. The sunlight was blotted out from the eastern windows; the whole hall became suddenly dark as night. The fire faded to sullen embers. Only Gandalf could be seen, standing white and tall before the blackened hearth. There was a flash as if lightning had cloven the roof. Then all was silent. Wormtongue sprawled on his face.
‘Now Théoden son of Thengel, will you hearken to me?’ said Gandalf. ‘Do you ask for help?’ He lifted his staff and pointed to a high window. There the darkness seemed to clear, and through the opening could be seen, high and far, a patch of shining sky. ‘Not all is dark. Take courage, Lord of the Mark; for better help you will not find. No counsel have I to give to those that despair. Yet counsel I could give, and words I could speak to you. Will you hear them? They are not for all ears. I bid you come out before your doors and look abroad. Too long have you sat in shadows and trusted to twisted tales and crooked promptings.’
“From the king’s hand the black staff fell clattering on the stones. He drew himself up, slowly, as a man that is stiff from long bending over some dull toil. Now tall and straight he stood, and his eyes were blue as he looked into the opening sky. “Dark have been my dreams of late,” he said, “but I feel as one new awakened.”
True transformation happens in moments like these and those encounters lead kings back to the battlefields and out of the throne rooms.
The Return of the King:
“… the drawing of the scimitars of the Southrons was like a glitter of stars. Then Théoden was aware of him, and would not wait for his onset, but crying to Snowmane he charged headlong to greet him. Great was the clash of their meeting. But the white fury of the Northmen burned the hotter, and more skilled was their knighthood with long spears and bitter. Fewer were they but they clove through the Southrons like a fire-bolt in a forest. Right through the press drove Théoden Thengel’s son, and his spear was shivered as he threw down their chieftain. Out swept his sword, and he spurred to the standard, hewed staff and bearer; and the black serpent foundered. Then all that was left unslain of their cavalry turned and fled far away.”
Would you take a moment and pray for you pastor and church right now? Pray that the light of Heaven would dispel the clouds of gloom, weariness and forgetfulness. Pray that the Wormtongues around them would be replaced with Eomers and Gandalfs.
Pray that your church members would rally around truth of the gospel and reengage the mission of God in their cities wherever they find themselves. All of us are called to be at work in the vineyard of the Lord in some capacity as mothers, fathers, students, elders or children. All have a meaningful opportunity to serve and influence others for Christ for the glory of God and the lives of the lost.